Yesterday, Marvel and Sony announced they’ve finally chosen their new Spider-Man, British teen actor Tom Holland, and director Jon Watts to helm the project. They got what they wanted.
They wanted young, white, male. They got it.
Marvel and Sony wanted their now-totally-official Spider-Man/Peter Parker to be visibly different from Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, without doing the cool thing and casting an actor of color in the role. Since they’re strict about Peter Parker’s race and who he likes to have sex with, they let loose in one aspect: His age.
Even in 2002 when Tobey Maguire was swinging in the tights, he didn’t look like a teenager. This was like Saved By the Bell or Power Rangers where 16-year-olds were portrayed by 20-somethings. Tobey Maguire was somewhere around 26- or 27-years-old during production, and despite his baby face he did not look 17. They kind of sidestepped this by speeding through his high school years right into college, but it was still a compromise on the part of audiences. I could almost hear a Sony exec whispering in my ear, “He’s a teen, okay? Just go along with it.”
Tom Holland is, right now, 19-years-old and will be 21 by the time the new Spider-Man comes out. He’ll be able to drink at the premiere party. But he’s younger than either Garfield or Tobey were when they put on the tights, and his face is totally that of a middle schooler. And this is a good thing.
Spider-Man is, at best, a goofy teen still understanding his powers. Spider-Man himself is a representation of adolescence, and in Civil War the men that are Captain America and Iron Man will be answering difficult questions (via punches to the face) about their responsibilities that come with their gifts. Spider-Man is the divider between the two, whose decisions would affect superpowered kids like him the most. To make Spider-Man an adult playing a teen loses that impact, it dilutes the power behind the thematic punch.
Marvel wants new directing talent. They got it.
Jon Watts is an experienced filmmaker, but he’s still relatively unknown. That’s Marvel’s favorite kind of director. Besides James Gunn and Joss Whedon, Marvel has given the keys to their sweet cars to relatively unknown directors because a) It’s easier to mold them to fit their vision — Kevin Feige’s vision, and b) they’re cheaper.
It’s weird to think of multi-million dollar blockbuster films as “cheap,” but Marvel Studios are notorious penny-pinchers. An unknown directing talent is less likely to fight over creative decisions because they’re directing a summer blockbuster. And Marvel has demonstrated with name talents like Edgar Wright and Terrance Howard that they will cut you without much thought. So a no-name will play by the rules.
Audiences are excited but exhausted. It’s exciting that a beloved character can finally join the rumble of the massive Marvel Cinematic Universe, but a third reboot is approaching a tolerance threshold that some audiences are losing patience for. The pressure is on for Sony and Marvel to make this Spider-Man the Spider-Man for the generation to come.
Are they off to a good start? They certainly think so.